It may or may not be true, as Axios reports, that President Trump is considering a final Air Force One flight to Florida to hold a political rally while Joe Biden is being inaugurated.
But it would be a stiff test for the media after four tumultuous years, and a surreal coda to the Trump presidency.
It should not be a “split-screen moment,” as some are calling the possible tableaux on Jan. 20, because the inauguration of a president of the United States deserves our full televised attention, even if a former president is trying to steal the spotlight with a staged event. There would, of course, be plenty of time to cover the Trump proceedings later in the day.
But think about what this says about the present moment, since it’s long been likely that Trump will become the first president in a century to blow off his successor’s inauguration.
If Trump is even mulling an inaugural counter-event, it means he recognizes that all of his efforts–the constant accusations of election fraud, the blizzard of lawsuits, the efforts to pressure Republican lawmakers, the 46-minute Facebook video–are likely to fail.
And combined with the refusal of all but 27 congressional Republicans to recognize Biden as president-elect, it fuels the air of unreality that now pervades the nation’s capital.
Trump is engaged in a flurry of moves–executive orders, last-minute appointments, troop withdrawals, building more of the wall–as the clock ticks down on his tenure. That’s a longstanding tradition when presidents are leaving office, though he may be doing it on steroids.
Biden is giving policy speeches, talking to world leaders and building a government–his latest major pick is Xavier Becerra to run HHS–as he prepares for the next four years.
And yet no one in Trump’s inner circle or among his allies can publicly say that he is getting ready to vacate the White House.
Certainly not Rudy Giuliani, who continues to rail against the judges who have been rejecting the campaign’s claims, as happened in six battleground states on Friday. “The simple fact is, we don’t need courts,” Giuliani told Sean Hannity. “The United States Constitution gives sole power to the state legislature to decide presidential elections.”
When Giuliani says he’s “ashamed” of local GOP lawmakers for not trying to flip their states–Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp refused to call a special session after a weekend call from Trump–that’s a clear acknowledgment that the legal efforts are failing.
Unfortunately, the 76-year-old former mayor was just diagnosed with Covid-19 and checked into Georgetown Medical Center, sidelining the president’s chief advocate on election fraud, just as the earlier coordinator, Dave Bossie, also stepped aside after contracting the virus.
The Trump legal team knows it faces an uphill battle. I can report that its members believe they’ve been stymied by procedural hurdles, such as the reluctance of federal judges to rule on matters of state law. And they may well keep waging this battle even after the Electoral College certifies a Biden win on Dec. 14.
But on Friday alone, the Trump campaign suffered legal setbacks in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Wisconsin. Some of the judges, including those appointed by Republicans, are using such blistering language as “flimsy…foundation,” “indelible damage” and “dangerous path.”
And that’s without even mentioning that Bill Barr, who’s sending mixed signals about whether he might leave early to avoid a Trump firing, saying that so far his department has found no evidence of widespread election fraud.
The president may have several reasons for waging this post-election warfare, such as cementing his hold over the Republican Party and setting up a potential 2024 bid. And it matches his brand of being a disruptor. Hey, he even charged fraud after winning the previous election.
Occasionally a Trump loyalist, such as Kellyanne Conway, will say she expects Biden and Kamala Harris to be sworn in next month. But that’s rare.
So Washington is in the midst of a transition that can’t be openly recognized by one of the two parties, and the country is divided between those who believe Biden won the presidency and those who believe Trump was robbed.
It is a very strange time, especially when confronted with a surging virus that doesn’t care about political rhetoric.